Historic finals highlight start of NHRA Countdown

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
1 Comment

The NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship got off to a historic start in the final round of Sunday’s Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders earned her third straight victory and 19th of her career to pass legendary driver Shirley Muldowney and move into second on the NHRA all-time wins list for a female driver. Angelle Sampey is No. 1 with 41 career triumphs.

Enders relied on having one of the best reaction times in the sport to defeat the faster car of Vincent Nobile in the final round. In so doing, Enders took a commanding lead in the Pro Stock standings as she pursues a second consecutive championship.

“This is pretty incredible; it’s pretty surreal,” Enders said. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys. We have fun racing together. When I get in that car and close the door, there is not one single doubt that the car is prepared as well as it can be. It’s just up to me to drive it right.”

In Top Fuel, veteran racers Antron Brown and J.R. Todd became the first African-American drivers to meet in an NHRA final round.

Brown (3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph) rolled to his fifth win of 2015, his 36th career win in Top Fuel and also took the points lead following the first race in the six-race Countdown.

Todd, who was driving a special car honoring rock music legend’s Jimi Hendrix Foundation, ran 4.063 seconds at 286.32 mph.

In 2006, Todd became the first African-American driver to win a race in the Mello Yello Series. In 2012, Brown became the NHRA’s first black world champion and the first in a major U.S. auto racing series.

“It’s pretty awesome when you look at that,” Brown said. “J.R. has been racing longer in Top Fuel than I have.

“You never think about things like that. We’ve always talked about (racing each other) in the final one day. We both threw down on the tree and it was a great race. It just shows you what this NHRA sport is about.

“When I was a kid I got to come to this sport and was able to see guys like Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and Kenny Bernstein. It gave me that ray of hope because I could see what they’re doing because of all the access this sport offers. To be here racing in this sport so long, it is just a dream.”

In Funny Car, Del Worsham (4.086 seconds at 307.16 mph) earned his first win of 2015 and the 27th of his career, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.119 at 300.93). Worsham also takes the Funny Car points lead.

“Funny Car is extremely competitive right now,” Worsham said. “These are the races we are going to need to win if we’re going to win the championship.”

The biggest upset of the day overall came in the first round of Funny Car eliminations. Jack Beckman, who had been the hottest driver in the sport the last month-plus, was upset by Courtney Force, who failed to make the Countdown and is now in a position to play the role of spoiler to Countdown contestants like Beckman.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending series champ Andrew Hines (6.880 seconds at 195.11 mph) outran Matt Smith (6.910 at 192.49) to earn his 40th career PSM win and his third career win at zMAX Dragway.

“I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said.

With five races remaining in the season, the Countdown to the Championship moves into the second round next weekend with the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  J.R. Todd; 3.  Leah Pritchett; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6. Clay Millican; 7.  Larry Dixon; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Richie Crampton; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11. Pat Dakin; 12.  Chris Karamesines; 13.  Terry McMillen; 14.  Brittany Force; 15.  Shawn Langdon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  John Force; 4.  Alexis DeJoria; 5.  Ron Capps; 6. Courtney Force; 7.  Shane Westerfield; 8.  Matt Hagan; 9.  Robert Hight; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11. Bob Gilbertson; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  John Hale; 14.  Tim Wilkerson; 15.  Jack Beckman; 16. Dave Richards.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Larry Morgan; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6. Chris McGaha; 7.  Shane Gray; 8.  Bo Butner; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Jonathan Gray; 11.  Kenny Delco; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  John Gaydosh Jr; 14.  Wally Stroupe; 15.  Alex Laughlin; 16.  Drew Skillman.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Matt Smith; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Steve Johnson; 6.  Eddie Krawiec; 7.  Angelle Sampey; 8.  Redell Harris; 9.  Chip Ellis; 10.  Karen Stoffer; 11.  Hector Arana Jr; 12.  Chaz Kennedy; 13.  Shawn Gann; 14.  Jim Underdahl; 15.  Angie Smith; 16.  Hector Arana.


Top Fuel: Antron Brown, 3.832 seconds, 311.56 mph  def. J.R. Todd, 4.063 seconds, 286.32 mph.

Funny Car: Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.086, 307.16  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.119, 300.93.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.581, 210.97  def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.575, 211.13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 195.11  def. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.910, 192.49.


TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.851, 322.11 def. Dave Connolly, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.814, 318.09 def. Pat Dakin, 4.149, 232.79; Clay Millican, 5.882, 106.37 was unopposed; Tony Schumacher, 3.844, 321.19 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.452, 188.04; Larry Dixon, 5.174, 262.54 def. Brittany Force, 5.327, 131.02; Antron Brown, 3.849, 312.64 def. Terry McMillen, 4.739, 148.46; J.R. Todd, 4.516, 228.11 def. Shawn Langdon, 6.111, 138.36; Steve Torrence, 3.887, 312.21 def. Richie Crampton, 3.895, 310.13;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.823, 314.90 def. Torrence, broke; Schumacher, 3.865, 318.92 def. Kalitta, 3.998, 298.54; Pritchett, 4.095, 271.68 def. Dixon, 4.147, 241.71; Todd, 3.929, 298.21 def. Millican, 4.073, 261.93;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.853, 311.85 def. Schumacher, 10.556, 72.86; Todd, 3.848, 312.21 def. Pritchett, 3.878, 309.49;

FINAL — Brown, 3.832, 311.56 def. Todd, 4.063, 286.32.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.107, 301.94 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 8.049, 97.48; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.120, 304.94 def. Dave Richards, Toyota Solara, 11.309, 79.78; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.338, 303.71 def. Bob Gilbertson, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.306, 150.92; Ron Capps, Charger, 5.887, 276.29 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 6.162, 190.11; Shane Westerfield, Charger, 4.269, 252.95 def. Robert Hight, Chey Camaro, 4.371, 277.20; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.266, 265.06 def. John Hale, Charger, 6.201, 109.58; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.086, 305.63 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 9.391, 58.24; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.119, 303.78 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.965, 158.17;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 4.095, 302.08 def. C. Force, 6.139, 146.88; DeJoria, 4.123, 305.49 def. Westerfield, 6.285, 110.99; Worsham, 4.235, 290.69 def. Hagan, 7.997, 98.52; J. Force, 4.143, 305.49 def. Capps, 4.209, 275.06;

SEMIFINALS — Worsham, 4.138, 297.29 def. J. Force, 4.148, 303.03; Johnson Jr., 4.118, 299.33 def. DeJoria, 11.537, 82.99;

FINAL — Worsham, 4.086, 307.16 def. Johnson Jr., 4.119, 300.93.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.620, 210.44 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, foul; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.602, 210.05 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.564, 211.03; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.583, 210.05 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.602, 209.46; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.586, 211.23 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.847, 53.95; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.568, 210.97 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.704, 207.24; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.545, 211.96 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.888, 200.41; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.565, 211.10 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.645, 209.33; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 211.10 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.640, 208.52;

QUARTERFINALS — Morgan, 8.170, 188.25 def. S. Gray, 8.236, 180.33; Johnson, 6.626, 210.28 def. Butner, 13.477, 65.32; Enders, 6.588, 210.67 def. McGaha, 6.620, 210.18; Nobile, 6.611, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.587, 211.63;

SEMIFINALS — Nobile, 6.599, 210.28 def. Morgan, 6.641, 209.30; Enders, 6.586, 210.31 def. Johnson, 6.611, 209.59;

FINAL — Enders, 6.581, 210.97 def. Nobile, 6.575, 211.13.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.864, 196.02 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.995, 191.32; Redell Harris, Buell, 6.982, 191.40 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.926, 194.24; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.927, 192.58 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.917, 194.10; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.880, 194.97 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.000, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.900, 193.90 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.988, 190.65; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.947, 193.02 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.027, 193.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.914, 193.68 def. Angie Smith, foul; Matt Smith, 6.924, 191.43 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.934, 194.16;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.872, 195.56 def. Sampey, 6.973, 190.97; M. Smith, 6.918, 192.52 def. Harris, 6.990, 191.08; Hines, 6.888, 194.86 def. Johnson, 6.920, 193.63; Tonglet, 6.922, 195.08 def. Krawiec, 6.920, 194.58;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.928, 193.10 def. Savoie, foul; M. Smith, 6.961, 189.68 def. Tonglet, 7.145, 162.96;

FINAL — Hines, 6.880, 195.11 def. M. Smith, 6.910, 192.49.


Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,199; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,190; 3.  Larry Dixon, 2,117; 4.  J.R. Todd, 2,114; 5.  Richie Crampton, 2,101; 6.  (tie) Brittany Force, 2,082; Doug Kalitta, 2,082; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 2,073; 9.  Steve Torrence, 2,069; 10.  Dave Connolly, 2,035.

Funny Car: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,181; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,175; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,147; 4.  Matt Hagan, 2,133; 5.  John Force, 2,125; 6.  Ron Capps, 2,100; 7.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,071; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,067; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,055; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,042.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,231; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,148; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,127; 4.  Allen Johnson, 2,122; 5.  Larry Morgan, 2,114; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 2,103; 7.  Jason Line, 2,093; 8.  Shane Gray, 2,085; 9.  Drew Skillman, 2,053; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,032.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,193; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,173; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,141; 4.  Matt Smith, 2,136; 5.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,112; 6.  Karen Stoffer, 2,089; 7.  Jim Underdahl, 2,062; 8.  Chip Ellis, 2,053; 9.  Hector Arana, 2,042; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,010.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).